We all look for simplicity in things today. Companies constantly bombard us with ads advertising new products that promise to make our life simpler and less troublesome than it is now. Generally, it's only troublesome due to the use of too many helpful gadgets that were supposed to simplify things, but I digress. Mankind has always been in search of engineering ideas to make things less troublesome.
Let's say that you're working on a Word document where you are writing documentation for a new product that your company is releasing soon. The legal department, however, has insisted that all instances of your company's name be appropriately marked with trademark insignias and such. Having to constantly change fonts, insert one symbol, and then change back…it gets rather tedious.
When John Carmack announced that Quake III would not support aliasing as its predecessors had, it sent shockwaves through the gaming community. Carmack defended his decision, saying that it would help to reduce cheating, which was one of his primary goals in Quake III. Still, many gamers wept at the idea of no longer being able to use their cleverly-fashioned zoom scripts or rocket-jumping scripts.
Aliasing, if you're not familiar with it, is the technique of taking a command or string of commands, and tying it to a particular button or key. For instance, if you wanted to bind a key in Quake II to use the Grenade Launcher, then you'd just set up the key binding. If you instead wanted the key to switch to the Grenade Launcher, fire a grenade, and then immediately switch back to the weapon you were holding, then you'd need to do some script programming, and then set the script up to alias to a particular key. You could also temporarily change the axis size of the screen, manually move or change the viewpoint (Thus moving the player), or insert pauses.
All these functions and more can be provided by the new X-Keys Desktop Pad by PI Engineering. PI Engineering, the self-proclaimed company with a lack of slogan, is the mind behind several other products you may have seen in catalogues, such as the Y-mouse and Y-keys adapters which allow for multiple input peripherals to be connected to a PC at once. PI Engineering makes quite a few handy devices, but they also cater to custom-designed solutions for whatever need shall arise. Today we'll look at one of their simpler products, the aforementioned X-Keys Desktop.
The X-Keys Desktop can be purchased in either a PS/2 or a USB configuration, and features twenty programmable keys. The PS/2 version piggybacks on your keyboard cable connection, while the USB version plugs in separately. The PS/2 version, which is the model we received, features an innovative passthrough system which eliminates the need to have a particular connection hanging loose. Most devices of this nature, like the Ferraro Designs Claw and the Gravis Phoenix joystick, have two separate passthrough plugs, one for AT keyboard and the other for PS/2 keyboard, so that one connector is always left hanging. The X-Keys, however, puts one connection on the each plug with opposing genders, and, using the included adapter cable, you'll be able to set it up without leaving any connections uncovered or open. Novel idea! Although, a bit of a hassle had you been using a converter already to convert your keyboard's type.
And thus, installation of the device was easy. Enough about the plugs, though, and on to the functionality of the device. Since we were using the PS/2 version, it didn't require any drivers for operation, and could essentially be used right away. The device itself features 20 programmable keys, two indicator LEDs, and an adjustable recording wheel to toggle recording mode off and on. Of course, if you want, the unit comes with a few double-size keys, so you can effectively set the X-Keys up to look exactly like a numeric keypad, complete with the oversized Insert, Enter, and + keys. The packaging also comes with some cardstock labels so that you can write keynames and place them under the keycap surfaces. The tops of the keys are removable and transparent, so you can pop them off and put small labels underneath them to identify the keys' functions. More cardstock and extra keyparts, including 2x2 squares, can be cheaply re-ordered through PI Engineering.
Programming the device for simple operation is easy enough - Just slide the wheel to recording position. Next, hit the key you want to program, and begin typing what you want that key to emulate on the main keyboard. To finish programming, hit the key again, and then exit recording mode. One touch of that particular button should dump out everything you just typed into it. Nice, eh? It'll even remember such extended and sometimes troublesome keyboard functions as Ctrl+Alt+Delete, Alt+Tab, and the arrow keys.
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